Area business officials hope to capitalize in 2023 on momentum they have gained when it comes to recruiting and retaining more people in the area.
Here’s a look ahead at what the Telegraph Herald anticipates will be some of the biggest local business stories this year.
Child care needs
Multiple local organizations and officials have announced projects to expand child care offerings to address a multitude of child care needs in the area.
Greater Dubuque Development Corp. President and CEO Rick Dickinson said GDDC officials have in-depth conversations with businesses on a regular basis, and issues related to child care have become a larger part of those discussions as time has gone on.
“The (COVID-19) pandemic changed some things up, but it wasn’t really the cause of the shortage of child care in Dubuque, in the country and Iowa and the Greater Dubuque area,” Dickinson said. “The problem already existed.”
A child care survey completed in 2022 showed several areas that need to be addressed, Dickinson said — infant care, shift care, drop-in care and sick care.
Several large child care projects announced in 2022 are expected to add hundreds of spots in capacity to address those needs. However, Dickinson said finding ways to recruit and retain child care workers also will be important going forward.
He noted that the Opportunity Dubuque initiative supports scholarships with Northeast Iowa Community College for people training for child care positions and provides child care to program participants.
“(The initiative) helps to generate more workers in the market, not only for the new facilities in the market, but also increases the capacity in facilities,” he said. “Most could take more children if they could hire more employees.”
Business officials throughout 2022 put a focus on workforce recruitment and retention.
Dickinson said Dubuque County still was down about 1,500 workers in November compared to the number of workers in November 2019. He added that the county also has about 1,500 people identified as unemployed and looking for work, while only 225 of those individuals are receiving unemployment benefits.
“It’s a misnomer that the reasons there are challenges in the workforce is people don’t want to work and are living large on unemployment benefits,” Dickinson said. “It’s just not true.”
Dickinson said addressing needs in child care, housing and transportation have been identified as areas that will help with workforce shortages.
Dickinson said housing projects expected to start construction in 2023 will increase the number of needed housing units.
Starting Jan. 9, free Jule routes also will be available to multiple area businesses for six months to help address worker transportation needs.
“All of those things will be implemented in 2023, and hopefully they will make us much more competitive for workforce,” he said. “Retaining talent is critical, so we’re not leaking out of a bucket before we fill the top of the bucket.”
Commercial air opportunities
Following the end of American Airlines’ service to Dubuque Regional Airport in September, officials with ultra-low-cost carrier Avelo Airlines announced in November that they will start offering twice-weekly flights to Orlando International Airport starting Jan. 11.
Dubuque Regional Airport Director Todd Dalsing said there is a possibility that additional Avelo routes could be added depending on the demand for leisure air services. As of the beginning of December, at least 24% of tickets for the first four months of flights between Dubuque and Orlando had been sold.
Dalsing said efforts continue to restore daily air service to a major hub, such as Chicago. Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce also has hired a consultant, Rasky Partners, to help with strategies to build a nationwide coalition of communities such as Dubuque that have had air service reduced or stopped.
In addition, a $775,000 federal grant awarded to Dubuque in February 2020 to add westbound flights at the airport still is available through 2026. Dalsing said the funds are something officials can offer when speaking with air carriers.
“We did hire a consulting group, as well, Global Flight Solutions,” Dalsing said. “That’s been a few weeks, and they have begun and picked up where the previous consultant left off, scheduling meetings with legacy carriers and also regional carriers.”
Field of Dreams development
A portion of the large-scale developments planned at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville is expected to be completed in 2023.
Work began in September on $80 million worth of development at the iconic property, which is owned by Go the Distance Baseball.
The first portion of work focuses on a recreational sports complex 70 acres north of the movie site. It will include nine new ballfields, team dormitories, a fieldhouse and jogging trails. Go the Distance Baseball officials previously shared their plan to have teams playing on the fields by summer of this year.
The developments also include a 104-room boutique hotel across Lansing Road from the Field of Dreams, as well as an RV park and outdoor amphitheater near the movie site.
In addition, plans are also in place for a $55 million, 3,000-seat permanent stadium around the Major League Baseball field adjacent to the movie site.
Travel Dubuque President and CEO Keith Rahe said the stadium project is in the design process right now, and officials involved with the project have visited other baseball facilities to get a better idea of what they hope to create.
“We’re in the process right now of selecting a construction manager at risk, which is huge for a project like this,” Rahe said. “Once that group is selected, I think the timeline (of the project) will become even more solidified.”
He said the Field of Dreams development stemmed from the momentum created by the first Major League Baseball game at Field of Dreams played in 2021.
“One of the biggest things is just the amount of time and effort and detail that goes into all of this and making sure everything is done and continues to evolve,” he said. “As we move into (2023), hopefully it’s going to be a very promising year to make significantly more progress with the field.”
Potential inflation impacts
The impacts of inflation on every industry were widespread over the past year, from higher costs of materials to rising interest rates on homes, with many across the country wondering if a recession is looming. In November, prices had increased by more than 7% compared to November 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Everything that’s done factors into those realities,” Dickinson said. “To some degree, every project expansion, every business, residential development, it puts an asterisk next to it.”
However, Dickinson said many factors playing into larger economic concerns are outside of local control, such as the economic effects of the war in Ukraine.
“We cannot solve all of the problems,” he said. “What we can do is try to solve problems better than our competition and, as a result, be more successful economically than our competition.”
Dickinson said several projects announced by area businesses are expected to increase jobs starting in 2023. Also, other than the closure of Georgia-Pacific’s Dubuque plant and the loss of 85 jobs there, he said there have been no indications locally of significant layoffs coming.
“But there’s no guarantee there won’t be news like that in 2023,” he said. “We will have to wait and see and address it as it comes. The drumbeat at Greater Dubuque Development is that time doesn’t fix anything. People and investors with courage and initiative change things.”